Disclaimer: I do not own BtVS, AtS, or any of the characters portrayed therein. They belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy, etc... of which I have zero affiliation. I'm just borrowing them to entertain myself for a little while.
Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who's taken the time to review so far!
This chapter is a bit shorter than the others, but there's a lot of information being tossed around, and I felt like I didn't want it to get too confusing.
On another note, it's looking like I'm not going to have the chance to update next weekend; a family friend has been admitted to the hospital, and I'm going to be heading home in a couple of days to provide some moral support. When I get back I may try to post 2 chapters to make up for it if I have enough time.
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 6: The End Comes Galloping In
The next day, I didn't sleep much. Aside from the dreams plaguing my slumber, the conversation at Giles' had left me concerned, and as a result, restless. If the Valkesch was looking for what I thought it was; there was a possibility my timeline had been cut short, and I would have to conjure up a way to keep Buffy out of the battle – and fast.
Worrying for Buffy's safety, however, had brought my thoughts back to our argument outside of Giles' home the evening prior. I should have known it wouldn't have taken Buffy long to hone into the fact that I was acting out of sorts, she was smarter and more intuitive than most people gave her credit for. I wondered how long it would take her now to forgive me for this little fumble... being out of touch with her emotions had made her quite a bit more rash when they did surface, something which I found both infuriating and heartbreaking at the same time. I found myself wishing that I'd stuck around the first time; that I'd been there to help her through this when I didn't have a secret the size of a great white whale wedged between us.
Needing something to preoccupy my mind, I fished my phone out of my pocket and dialled L.A., a conversation with Cordelia was sure to take my mind off of things.
"Angel Investigations, we help the helpless!" came her chipper voice through the receiver.
"It's me, Cordy."
"Angel! I wasn't expecting to hear from you again so soon! Everything's okay, right?" she chattered.
I smiled in relief, this was exactly what I needed, "Everything's fine here Cordy, how are you?"
"Oh, nothing but smooth sailing over here!" she said with a hint of sarcasm.
"What happened? I asked.
"I had a vision about something attacking a bunch of homeless kids, and it turned out there was this creepy warlock who was stealing their youth, so he could live forever or something entirely clichéd like that... so naturally the fight ended up in a sewer, where I ruined yet another pair of shoes, but I guess that's all in a day's work around here isn't it?"
I grinned, "Do you want me to pay for them?"
"No, don't be silly," she scoffed, "I already took some money out of the last case we did for them."
I rolled my eyes, "So I guess you all made it out safely?" I asked, though I was sure I didn't need to. Cordelia would not have been making quips about her shoes if something bad had happened, she wasn't that girl anymore.
"Yeah. Wes took a bit of a beating, but I think it damaged his pride more than anything else." she answered, "So what are you doing? I'd figure the Hellmouth would be keeping you busy enough that you wouldn't need to keep checking up on us back here."
"It's kind of quiet here actually," I explained, "Plus it is the middle of the day..."
"Buffy's mad at you isn't she?" Cordelia sighed.
"Where would you get an idea like that?" I asked, slightly perplexed as to how Cordy could pick up on that over the phone.
"Because you sound like your puppy just died." she sighed, "So dish, what happened?"
"I thought you hated hearing about Buffy and me?"
"I do, way too much drama, but I'm trying to be supportive. Give me a break, okay?" I could almost imagine her rolling her eyes as she spoke.
"I guess everyone's been walking on eggshells around her since she came back." I muttered.
"And a coddled Slayer is a ticked-off Slayer?" Cordelia flouted.
"Something along those lines."
"I may be crazy here," she began, "But if I was trying to re-adjust to... well... life, I think it would be easier if people just treated me normally... don't you?"
I frowned, "I guess you have a point."
"Hey! Check me out! Giving the two-hundred-year-old vampire advice!" she cheered.
I smiled slightly, "I should get going Cordy."
"Where? The sun's still out." she questioned, "Oh. I get it, you want to go brood about Buffy! Well, don't let me stand in your way."
I sighed, "Take care Cordelia,"
"You too Angel."
I suddenly thought of the meeting at the Magic Box that evening, and fear gripped at me once more, "Cordy?" I asked, hoping she hadn't already hung up.
"You'll call, right? If you notice anything strange going on over there?"
"Didn't we go over this already? Of course I will." she sighed.
"I know. I'm sorry... I just wanted to be sure."
"Stress-case much? We know what we're doing, deal with whatever you've got happening over there."
"Right... talk to you later Cordy."
I closed the phone and sunk into the couch. Everyone was safe... for now. I didn't know for how much longer, but I was thankful for whatever extra time I had.
That evening, I journeyed to the bookstore, anxious to hear what Giles had uncovered. Part of me was still praying that he would arrive with news other than what I was expecting, but I'd spent enough time on this planet to know that hoping for the best was a futile endeavour.
To further punctuate my thoughts of injustice, I turned down the street to the Magic Box, I discovered Buffy on the opposite side of the road, turning the corner at the exact same moment. She looked to me, and her shoulders slumped as she stopped in her tracks. I wasn't sure if she was stopping to give me time to pass her, or if she was waiting for me, but I chose the latter, and crossed the street to meet her.
"Hi." she greeted quietly.
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, she turned and continued down the sidewalk. I followed suit and fell into step beside her.
"How was your day?" I asked, attempting to break the tension.
"It was a day." she replied simply.
I frowned, "Buffy, I'm sorry about last night," I apologized. I was trying to make things better, and it seemed every time I was near her I was making things more and more difficult. "I shouldn't hide things from you."
She sighed, and finally looked up at me, "No... I overreacted. I get kind of moody sometimes," she explained, "It just happens, I wish there was a way I could warn people," she confessed ruefully.
I tried to smile at her, "Either way, this is your town, you should know what's going on. I have no right to keep you in the dark."
She nodded, and came to a halt outside the shop, "So... we're still good then?" she asked, albeit a little more stiffly that someone who was 'still good'.
"Yeah." I agreed.
She smiled sadly, then pushed open the door to the Magic Box. I followed her in, to discover everyone was already present.
Tara sat at the large round table, her chair pushed right up next to Dawn's as they both studied a textbook intently. Willow sat to the other side of Tara, lazily flipping through a spell book, while Xander sat at the opposite the three girls, his feet propped up on the table. Anya was behind the counter, busying herself with counting the money in the register.
"Hey! If it isn't our favourite Slayer!" Xander cheered, "And Angel." he added sourly.
"Is Giles here yet?" Buffy asked as we approached the rest of the group.
"Nope, we're still waiting for him," Dawn answered, "Can I stop doing homework now?" she asked with a pout.
"Are you finished?" Buffy questioned.
"Then keep working until Giles gets here."
"But I hate geography! It's the worst! I don't care what kind of rocks the Earth's crust is made out of! When am I ever going to need to know that again?!" she whined.
Buffy's body visibly tensed, and out of the corner of my eye I saw her fists clench, "Dawn. Listen -"
"I-it's not so bad Dawnie!" Tara interrupted gently, "I'll keep helping you, w-we've only got two questions left, see? It'll be done in no time!" she smiled brightly at the young teen, before casting a sympathetic look at Buffy. I couldn't help but smile, even though Willow and Xander seemed to remain oblivious to Buffy's troubles, it appeared that Tara was a bit more intuitive.
The issue was never pressed further, however, as the door swung open and Giles strolled in with two large tomes tucked under his arm.
"Ah, good, everyone's here then!" he nodded, depositing the books on the table, and rubbing his hands together.
"Yep, we're all here, now tell us what's trying to end the world this time." Xander mused.
"Don't jump to conclusions Xander..." Giles scolded.
"Well, what's happening then?" Willow asked.
Giles turned to her with a sour expression, "Someone is trying to end the world." he confessed rather sheepishly.
"Hey! See? I'm smarter than you all think!" Xander cheered.
"You're not that smart," Anya snorted, closing up the register, and rounding the counter towards the table, "It's just that living on top of a Hellmouth has made world-ending scenarios predictable." she continued as she slid into the chair next to him.
"Thanks for your vote of confidence, An." Xander replied bitterly.
"What did you find, Giles?" I asked, attempting to derail the bickering that was sure to break out at any moment if we didn't get the ball rolling on this discussion.
"Yes, well, the demon itself doesn't seem to pose much of a threat as far as my sources indicate. Their kind tends to keep to themselves, however, when you mentioned the Whitlock crypt... that concerned me." Giles began.
"Why? Who was this Whitlock person?" Buffy asked.
"Charles Whitlock was a master architect in England at the end of the 19th Century, when he suddenly and mysteriously immigrated here, to Sunnydale, with no explanation, and proceeded to design and build a church." he explained.
"Born-again Christian?" Xander joked.
"What church?" Buffy asked quietly.
I turned to her, and saw the dark expression that marred her features; I knew exactly which church she was wondering about.
"The... the church destroyed in the 1937 earthquake." Giles continued quietly, "The one in which the Master was trapped."
The room suddenly went silent. Fear flashed across Buffy's features, but she quickly masked it.
"So..." Willow broke the silence, her voice barely above a whisper, "What would a demon be doing in his crypt?"
I turned my attention back to Giles, dreading what I was sure he was about to reveal.
"Well, the Council did some investigating after the earthquake. At the time, they believed the Hellmouth may be located underneath the church, and wanted to be sure that the barrier between our world and Hell hadn't been compromised by the disaster." he retold, "It was then that they began to uncover some rather peculiar information about Whitlock."
"He smuggled something here, didn't he?" I asked.
"Yes," Giles confirmed solemnly, "However it was all speculation, as no one was ever capable of finding it."
"Are you going to get around to telling us what it was?" Buffy asked, sounding a little frustrated. In light of us withholding information from her the evening before, she wasn't looking very impressed at the moment.
"It was a scroll. An extremely powerful one, from what was uncovered, it seemed that Whitlock believed no one would ever think to look for it atop a Hellmouth." Giles imparted.
"Well, his face would be red if he were still around today," Xander scoffed.
"Wh-what exactly was so special about this scroll?" Tara questioned.
Giles frowned, and I braced myself for his answer.
"It sets in motion the end of days."
"You're joking right?!" Xander chuckled scornfully, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?!"
"I'm afraid not, no, we're not joking." Wesley replied, trying his best to remain calm under the younger man's scrutiny. I could see beads of sweat forming on his brow, and I was sure he was re-living all the insults he'd endured at the amusement of the group that had just strode into my office. Wesley had come a long way here in L.A., amongst those he'd grown to trust; I was moments away from dragging Xander Harris out the door and leaving him in the semi-apocalyptic streets for making someone I'd grown to consider a friend so uncomfortable.
"I would like to point out that none of this would be happening if the world was Jewish." Willow joked meekly, attempting to lessen some of the tension in the room.
"Ah, unfortunately Willow, that wouldn't be the case. This scroll is far older than Biblical texts... Christians merely re-appropriated it to fit into their eschatological view." Wesley continued.
Willow shrugged, "Can't blame a girl for trying."
"So, what exactly is about to occur here?" Giles questioned, "From what I can recall, the scroll is very much like the one found in Christian doctrine; there are seven seals binding it, each of which, when opened, unleashes another element of the apocalypse."
Wesley nodded in agreement, "Precisely. As of right now, we're certain the first two seals have been broken, we've yet to see anything to confirm the other two horsemen, however-"
"If you have no proof that there are four of them, then why are you so quick to jump to the conclusion that it's the end of days?" Buffy asked. If the question had come from anyone else I would have thought they were trying to challenge Wesley's knowledge, but Buffy looked genuinely concerned, perhaps hoping to find another explanation for what was happening.
"That's an excellent question, Buffy," Wesley answered quietly, taking note of the worry etched on her face, "For those of you who may not know, the four horsemen are Pestilence, War, Famine, and finally Death." he continued solemnly, "Aside from the vision Cordelia had of an armoured rider on a white horse, galloping out of a window at the Wolfram & Hart offices, there has been the unidentifiable virus which has stricken down half of Los Angeles."
"Hospitals are full," Cordelia cut in, stepping next to Wesley, almost as though she were defending him, "No one is getting better, and more people are getting sick every minute. You saw the mess out there; people started rioting outside of the hospitals, stealing supplies, attacking each other to try and get help for themselves or their loved ones first."
"The beginnings of civil war." Gunn interjected.
"Not to mention that while trying to break up a riot outside a pharmacy a few nights ago, I saw a red horse and rider galloping through the sky as the violence began to escalate." I added.
"That just leaves Famine and Death to reveal themselves," Wesley finally continued, "And I don't foresee it taking very long at this rate."
Gunn nodded in agreement, "It's chaos out there. People have lost their minds."
"They blame the fever, but in reality, you and I can assume there is something bigger at work."
"The government is talking about quarantining L.A. until the cause of the virus can be determined. If that's the case, rationing may be implemented... and if people deplete food supplies like they did medical supplies... they'll all be in trouble." I explained.
"W-Wait..." Tara cut in quietly. Her face burned bright red as all the eyes in the room fell on her, but she continued, "I thought only, w-well, only Jesus could cut the seals on the scroll?" she turned to Willow who was casting her a questioning look, "M-my Dad was super religious..." she explained bashfully.
"In the Bible, yes, that is true," Giles confirmed, "However, that myth was created to ease the minds of the masses. In reality, anyone who gets their hands on the scroll could open it."
The room went silent, as the reality of the situation hit everyone full force.
"That's why it was hidden," Wesley murmured, "to ensure no one could stumble upon it accidentally, and unknowingly unleash these evils on the earth."
"So, how did your lawyer pals get their grubby paws on it then?" Spike piped in finally from where he stood leaning against the doorframe.
"We have no idea." Cordelia answered.
"They managed to really keep it under wraps, we didn't notice a thing." I added, a hint of rage colouring my voice. I couldn't believe that they'd finally pulled the wool over my eyes. This was bigger than anything else they'd tried to orchestrate before, and I had been clueless.
"But we can still stop it, right?" Dawn asked hopefully, looking around the room with her eyes open wide, an innocent and hopeful expression on her face.
I glanced at Wesley, his matter-of-fact attitude melted away, and was quickly replaced by an expression of disillusionment. He turned to me and opened his mouth to speak, before shutting it again tightly and casting his eyes to the ground. Feeling my heart breaking in light of Dawn's optimism, I turned to Buffy. She was staring back at me, her expression was despairing as she studied my face, searching for some shred of hope she could feed her younger sister, but I had none to offer, and she soon joined Wesley in staring at the ground.
"We don't know."I divulged finally, "This is a lot bigger than anything we've ever faced... and with the lack of solid information..."
"It's looking like the end." Dawn whispered defeatedly.
No one spoke for a long moment. It seemed in light of the recent revelations, no one could think of something positive to say to the young teen.
"Then we do what we do best," Buffy cut in finally, looking up from the floor, her eyes now steely and full of conviction as she took a step forward, surveying everyone in the room, "We fight."
Wesley shook his head hesitantly, "These aren't your run of the mill demons, Buffy, I'm afraid it may not be that simple-"
"Is a town mayor turning into giant snake 'run of the mill'? Is a cyborg-demon hybrid? Is a Hell-God?" Buffy replied, placing her hands on her hips defiantly, "This may be big, but I'm not willing to lay down and let them win. We've all sacrificed too much for that."
I studied Buffy intently, I didn't know why she continued to surprise me after all these years. Ever since she'd arrived I'd been contemplating telling her to run and save herself, but seeing her courage despite everything I knew she'd gone through in the past year, made me second guess that decision. It would definitely be a huge advantage having her in the fight; but at the same time there was a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me not to put her in danger.
"This doesn't have to be your fight Buffy," I said, "If you all leave now you can probably find a safe place to hide before it spreads-"
"We're not going anywhere." she answered, her jaw set in determination, "We all have a better chance of surviving if we fight together."
"I just thought I would give you an out," I replied softly, taking a step towards her.
"Since when have I ever taken an out?" she answered, a cheeky smile on her lips.
"Never... but the offer is on the table." I countered with a smile as we momentarily forgot the embarrassing slip during our last encounter.
"Alright, alright! Break it up you two!" Xander groaned, "Can I put it on the proverbial table that Buffy and Dead-Boy have to remain at least ten feet apart at all times?"
"Nice to see a coming apocalypse has changed your petty ways, Xander," Cordelia snapped.
"Excuse me for not wanting Angel's alter-ego making a reappearance to bat for the other team, alright? I figure we'll already have enough on our plates."
"Xander..." Giles warned quietly.
"Listen," Cordelia hissed, "The past three years, when you've probably just been getting yourself into trouble and making Buffy waste her time saving you, Angel's been doing real good! So you need to let go of whatever residual, petty jealousy you're hanging onto, and grow up!"
An awkward silence blanketed the room, and though I didn't let it show outwardly, I was quite impressed with how Cordelia had shut Xander down in my defense.
"You're awfully rude..." Anya grumbled quietly from where she sat next to Xander.
"Do you really -"
"Cordy not now!" Buffy snapped, and Cordelia snapped her mouth shut, "Though I'd love for you two to just get at it so you can bury the hatchet," she continued, casting a pointed glare to where Xander sat. His face turned red and he looked down to his hands, "We have bigger things to deal with right now." she turned back to me, and I could tell from her expression that she was searching for what to do next.
"Right." I agreed, "But first I think if you guys are going to be here for awhile, you should get settled in. Almost all the rooms on the first two floors are habitable, you can grab the keys from behind the reception desk. We'll meet again later to start discussing a plan."
A great amount of scuffling suddenly rose in the small cramped office as the gang from Sunnydale rose from their seats, or moved from where they were standing and headed towards the door.
"Thanks Angel," Willow called softly, a friendly smile on her face as she filed out of the room with the others. Only Buffy stayed behind.
"So, am I safe to assume this evening will be filled with a lot of heavy reading?" she asked.
I shrugged, "Wesley seems to think he's depleted our resources, but maybe some fresh eyes will help."
She nodded, then turned to Cordelia with a smirk on her face. She studied her for a moment, looking as though there was something on the tip of her tongue, and she was wrestling with whether or not to say it, when suddenly her face fell, and she turned away with a troubled expression, "I should go... get my things from the car," she stammered. Once she reached the door she paused, and turned back to me. Without the others present, she looked a little more defeated and frightened, "Thank you, Angel." she said softly.
"No, Thank you." I whispered, and she disappeared out the door. I stared after her for a long moment, once again forgetting that Wesley, Gunn and Cordelia were still present.
"So that's the Slayer, huh?" Gunn chuckled, "To be honest I was expecting her to be taller."
"Don't underestimate her," Wesley warned wryly, "She's tougher than she looks,"
"If she can keep up with this guy," Gunn answered, pointing towards me, "Wouldn't dream of it."
It was then that I noticed Wesley frowning at me, "Are you sure you'll be alright with her here, Angel?" he questioned gently.
My heart clenched in my chest, but I showed no outwards signs of the turmoil, "We've got more important things to focus on." I muttered, "I think I'll go make sure everyone's got everything they need."
Gunn merely looked confused by the sudden change in topic, but Wesley and Cordelia were not fooled; they knew the fact that I wasn't willing to discuss Buffy didn't bode well. They also knew not to press the matter further.
Just as I reached the door, I turned back to them, "By the way Cordelia... thanks."
She smiled gratefully, "No sweat, I've been waiting three years for a good excuse to give Xander Harris a piece of my mind."
I grinned, then turned again to leave.
"Oh, and Angel?"
"Angel?" Cordelia's voice suddenly sounded a lot like Buffy's, "Angel!"
I blinked, and discovered I was back in the Magic Box, with seven pairs of extremely confused eyes on me. "Yeah?" I answered hesitantly. I'd just completely zoned out, how much of the conversation had I missed?
With her brow furrowed in concern Buffy continued, "I was just saying that we'd take a trip back to the crypt tonight? See if we can find any clues about whether or not the scroll actually was there."
I straightened and nodded in agreement, "Yes, that sounds like the best idea right now."
"Great..." she muttered, her perplexed eyes never leaving my face, "We'll head over to the cemetery, while you guys get into research mode."
She turned abruptly, and stalked towards the door. Forcing myself out of the fog of my distant memories, I hurried after her. Pushing through the door to the outside world, I discovered Buffy waiting for me, her arms crossed and her eyes questioning.
"What happened in there?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You were gone... completely gone... on another planet gone." she rambled.
"I got caught up in my thoughts, it's no big deal." I attempted to ease her mind, however from the look on her face I could tell she wasn't buying it.
"Angel, I know you think my whole situation has cut me off from the rest of the world, but I can still sense when something's wrong; and something is definitely wrong." she began, "You've been acting strange since you showed up here... I'm worried about you."
"Don't. Please." the last thing I needed or wanted was Buffy scrutinizing my behaviour, or wasting energy being concerned for me, "I'm fine, I was just... thinking about who might be responsible for this."
"Well, I hope you came up with someone after being so deep in thought," she answered.
"Maybe," I replied. There would be no harm in revealing this, would there? We didn't even have any confirmation of what was happening yet, "There's this law firm in Los Angeles..."
"What would a law firm want with an ancient scroll? I'd think killing everyone would do the opposite of helping their business." Buffy scoffed.
"They're kind of an evil demonic law firm." I clarified.
"Really? The things you miss out on living in a small town..." she mused.
"I'll call home tomorrow and get the guys to look into it just incase."
She shrugged, "If you think it'll help."
I nodded again, "So, should we head back to the crypt?" I suggested.
Buffy continued to study me uneasily, I was sure I didn't have her completely convinced, but she knew me well enough to know that I wasn't about to volunteer information if something was bothering me, and there was no way I was telling her what the problem really was. I would just have to be more careful around her, which was not something that was unfamiliar territory; if I could learn to keep my distance physically and emotionally, I could learn to put my guard back up mentally as well, as much as it would kill me to do so.
I would just have to hope it didn't drive the wedge further between us. I would have no hope of saving her if I destroyed our relationship completely.
So here it is, the reason I was warning people with strong religious beliefs to perhaps avoid this story. I'm really interested in different religions, and how things get interpreted (not to mention I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to fantasy - on top of the supernatural), so a chance to write about Knights who bring about the Apocalypse was something I've really wanted to try and work into a story for a long time... I hope I've done so in a way that won't offend anyone, I honestly don't mean anything disrespectful in doing so.
This will also serve as a heads up that I'll probably be changing the rating on this story to M in the next little while, so favourite or bookmark this now!
Please review! :)